Rookie striker Austin Savage‘s first professional start ended in U.S. Open Cup glory when the local kid from Stratford High School kept his feet despite heavy pressure and put his head into a rainbow from Jose Cuevas for the game’s only score.
The win put to the Battery through to the Third Round of the 2013 Cup next Tuesday, when they’ll host the San Jose Earthquakes, winners of Major League Soccer’s 2012 Supporters’ Shield, at Blackbaud Stadium
Savage’s game-winner off an alert and perfectly placed assist by Cuevas at the hour mark was an offensive highlight on a night with only three or four of them. Instead it was a night for defenders, with the first-time back-line unit of Shawn Ferguson, Colin Falvey, Cody Ellison, John Wilson and Kevin Klasila turning in a stout if occasionally flawed performance against an unfazed Portland Timbers U-23 squad.
Reigning USL PRO Player of the Week Dane Kelly went 90 minutes for the second time in two days, once again generating chances and creating space in the attack for Cuevas, Nicki Paterson and others behind him. The Kelly/Cuevas combination produced two chances for the young Californian in the early going, including a highlight-reel save by Timbers U-23 keeper David Meves, a Supplemental Draft pick by the Timbers out of the University of Akron. In the 17th minute, Cuevas ripped a right-footed shoot from outside the penalty area that looked to be homing in on the upper righthand corner of the goal. Meves’ leap got just enough hand on the ball to deflect it into the apex of the frame.
Like Kelly, Cuevas also started and finished — his first complete game since preseason.
Savage’s night, on the other hand, ended early. It began quietly, and when he began to get into the flow of things in the second 30 minutes it was often with heavy touches and mistakes.
But on the run that produced the winning goal, Savage was brilliant. He stayed onside as he got past his man-marker, but the key to his finish was that he managed to keep his concentration and balance with a Timbers centerback draped over him from behind. Despite the pressure, Savage stayed on target to deliver the low header that beat Meves to the far post from short range. But three minutes later Savage blocked a long pass with his face, and couldn’t continue.
The Battery’s other chances Tuesday night included a couple of headers by Ferguson, who was also making his first professional start, a great Meves’ play off his line to deny Kelly a goal, a high shot by Kelly from 22-yards after a nifty steal by the Jamaican forward, and a late threat, also by Kelly, just before stoppage.
Despite that near-miss and some heads-up time-wasting by both Kelly and Paterson, the Timbers still managed to mount a couple of significant late threats. Klasila, making his second start of 2013, was more than up to the task on both.
Portland native Jarad van Schaik played the entire game, doing yeoman’s work from the Battery’s defensive midfield spot. According to Battery President Andrew Bell’s radio broadcast, van Schaik had roughly 50 friends and family on had to watch him.
More on the match this afternoon…